“Humanity scattered into the stars. Our diaspora settled around foreign stars, on planets which were just barely fit to sustain us. Where our traces dusted, we thrived. Our homeworld was last seen several centuries ago, now just a cooling hunk of rock amid hostile debris and freezing gases. In each system, we are strung out from inner teeming planets to grand stations to mining outposts clinging onto asteroid belts. We did not take to stillness. We inch ever onwards, to more systems, pushing the boundaries of “habitable”. Our numbers climb and trickle outwards, braving incinerating heat and crystallising cold, shaping new worlds to our whim from inhospitable rocks. The solar system Voraxi is the nucleus of humanity's greatest Empire, the Elysians. While the others scratch out an existence among the stars, we thrive and spread.”
—Excerpt from A Select History of Humanity, by F.E. Ryung, published 626PE. The book goes on to describe the following six centuries' worth of development of war, weapons and poetry.
The Exodus from humanity's Homeworld was over half a millenium ago. The asteroid bombardment which threatened the Home system was noticed early—not allowing time to prevent the damage, but allowing research to be poured into great interstellar craft. One failed to escape, the engineers vainly trying to finish construction as the bombardment pulverised the outer planets. In the end, 10 Exodus fleets left the Homeworld, each to a different system which had been identified as hosting a habitable planet. Of these, two were lost in the depths of space, their drive systems failing and leaving them hurtling into the empty black - one into a black hole before they could correct their course; the other well beyond its intended flight path. One of the fledgling colonies failed shortly after landing—some contaminant in the world preventing the seed banks from taking root. The name they gave themselves long ago was lost to decay by the time others found their world. Another fractured into factional infighting, destroying themselves over decades of war. Records on their world indicate the Hallid won, but they left nothing behind but scraps for scavengers willing to brave the radioactive wastes.
The six remaining colonies grew and flourished. The Elysians made their home on the planet Elysium, in the Voraxi system. The Tel, having fled the sun they had worshipped for millennia, found a new god in the system of TelDrar, naming their new home TelRast. The Consortium had arrived to find their target planet long since fractured, but the system was rich in resources and they stitched their fleet together into colossal stations, rejecting the need for a planet under their feet. The other three systems, Zarrik, Lontar, and Bel-Ashan, each held their own civilisation, but they are less important to the history of the Elysian Empire.1)
The calendar is counted in standard years “Post Elysium” (PE)2), measured starting from the date of humanity's landing on Elysium, following the exodus from the homeworld. A standard year is 12 standard months. A standard month is 30 standard days. A standard day is 24 standard hours. By convention, this timescale is marked even on worlds which have very different planetary days or years.
The current year is 653PE.
In the century or so after the colonisation on Elysium, the colony grew, and was soon stretching the limits of the planet to sustain it. Two other planets in the system, Voraxi and Prima, were identified as candidates for terraforming, and after decades of research and testing, they were ready for the new settlers. Advances in longevity treatments kept forcing population pressures upwards. Some decided to found new colonies in other nearby systems using the new terraforming techniques, but with a communication delay measured in years rather than hours, the Elysian government could not sustain control over them. Others built artificial worlds—stations with their gravity provided by rotation rather than a planet beneath, and everything made to measure.
In the year 122PE, researchers on one such station picked up a very strange signal: a ripple in their instruments which was too ordered to be natural. When other labs began to confirm their readings, something even stranger became apparent—all the instruments were picking this up simultaneously, with no light-speed delay. Rumours abounded of first contact with an advanced alien race, speculation as to their culture, appearance, and whether this marked humanity's first step into a galactic community. Until the signal was decoded, and the language was recognised. The Consortium had developed a method of communicating faster than light, and were beaming out instructions to the other outposts of humanity. This had two profound effects. The first was a golden age of technology, as researchers from six different systems were suddenly able to collaborate and share the advances of the last hundred years. The second was a new age of expansion—FTL comms allowed the government in Elysium to retain control over far-flung outposts, meaning that going to new systems was no longer some flight of fancy for those seeking a new life, but a way to bring prosperity to the Empire. And the Elysians had had an opportunity which the other colonies had not—a reason to develop terraforming technology.
Burgeoning communication with Consortium, the Tel culture and others has grown since this “first contact”. Initial wary cultural exchanges paved the way for trade and movement of people between the states. In the early years, as trade routes were established and borders defined, all was well. Most systems harboured only a single habitable planet, even with the ability to terraform, and after a few initial skirmishes an uneasy agreement was made defining when a claim on a planet had been properly staked. By the standards of later days, this “stage 1” terraforming was simple—taking only a decade or so, and only working on the low hanging fruit (planets which needed only minor atmospheric tweaks to sustain human life).
By the year 500PE, most of this low hanging fruit had been plucked. During the politicking and trading that came with the expansion, Lontar and their worlds had been absorbed into the Elysian Empire, and the Consortium had set themselves up as traders and brokers to all (looking on the wave of terraforming with mild amusement, as they set up embassy stations in every major system). But a population boom does not stop when you want it to, and nor does the expansionist spirit of humanity, so new techniques were worked out to transform yet more barren worlds.
“Stage 2” terraforming takes much longer—over a century in most cases, and whole lifetimes for the most complicated. At present, only the very earliest attempts have actually completed—providing lush, green worlds ripe for new colonies. The second wave of expansion has led to many of the Empires sharing systems. For the most part, this is peaceful.
Since the development of more sophisticated space travel and terraforming technology, the Elysian Empire is expanding like never before. High standards of health and medical advancements mean the rate of population growth in the core planets of Voraxi, Elysium and Prima is high. Additionally, there is attractive media promotion of life on the frontiers, and the chance to make one's fortune. Elysian settlers are expanding outwards, fulfilling both wanderlust and the economic drive for resource discovery.
The system of NevTyun lies on the border of Tel and Elysian space. Before the second terraforming wave, it contained a single habitable planet, PerTyun. It also, however, contained a resource-rich rocky planet, named LoTyun by the Tel, and New Prima by the Elysians. 'New Prima' lay on the very outskirt of the system, but was a prime candidate for the new Elysian terraforming techniques.
Apparently, its remoteness didn't matter to the Tel, who claimed that the planet came under the purview of their star. The Tel have great respect for stars; some even claim that they worship them, and their respect extends to considering all space within the pull of the star to be theirs. To the Elysians, who already had agreements to share several systems with other empires, this was ridiculous: the Tel couldn't even use the potential of New Prima, and had no claim on it. The Elysians continued their terraforming work. The Tel wrote increasingly agitated missives. The planet was theirs; the planet was to be left alone; to develop it without regard to Tel custom was blasphemy.
This remained a purely diplomatic spat while the terraforming was ongoing. Perhaps the Tel thought that it would be better to reclaim the planet after the Elysians had done the hard work of making it habitable.
Once the terraforming was complete, and the argument had been going on for over a century with no resolution, the situation became more heated. In the year 630PE, and in the face of increasing Tel threats, the Elysians sent their settlement fleet in with a considerable military guard—purely for protection, of course. The Tel moved to blockade the system, and prevent what they saw as an invasion. The Elysian fleet attempted to break the blockade; to the Tel, this was an act of war. The Tel fleet retaliated to defend 'their' space; to the Elysians, this in turn was an act of war.
This could, perhaps, have remained one of the smaller skirmishes and fizzled out, but neither side was willing to back down. Failures of government summits and civilian-led peace campaigns were accompanied by belligerent displays of military might. Misinformation, propaganda and hatred flicked through the channels, amid escalating embargoes. Nationalism and patriotic bonhomie was encouraged by the Elysian Council. Resumed Elysian investment in interstellar military technology and the production of orbital defenses did not go unnoticed.
The armed and callous takeover of the Tel colony on Asteroid-F8767NR in NevTyun by the Elysian government provoked the devastation of the infrastructure of the Elysian planet Victor 10 in an adjacent system, leading to sole reliance on Tel supply chains for the inhabitants. These two military operations were the heat generating the final spark: the massacre of New Prima, 640PE. The detonation of a previously unknown weapon of mass destruction led to the destruction of the entire planet and unimaginable loss of Elysian civilian life.
For the past thirteen years, hostilities have been fierce. Weapons of mass destruction 3) have led to rapid back-and-forth shifting of frontlines. Overall achievements remain unclear and multiple peace negotiations have stalled. The battle fronts remain grossly similar to those at the war's start: the Elysian government controls almost all of their historical areas. Many remote outposts have changed hands multiple times. The Tel still claim control of NevTyun—they would defend their star's reach to the death—but the borders are fiercely contested; Elysian fleets encroach on the outer asteroid belts. With their superior stealth technology, punitive hostilities against shipping lines have led to starvation and poverty in multiple Tel planets. Billions of lives have been extinguished in the most ferocious battles. The conflict continues unabated.
All of which is figuratively a million miles, and literally many more, removed from the inhabitants of a small prison on b-Exagora. Some fought in the conflict. Some were captured in battle and reassigned to b-Exagora for their labour. Some were imprisoned for crimes completely unrelated to the war. While the Tel in the prison are technically hostages, their leverage is minimal. Prisoners of war, they know they will not return. From the other side, deserters and conscientious objectors are reduced to rubbing shoulders with patriotic Elysian citizens, lay criminals caught red-handed in hot blood or cold fraud. Anti-war, pro-democracy activists are held as political prisoners and their notions of rights are no more sacred than the lives taken by the most unhesitating, uncompromising killers housed in Redemption Reform Facility: an isolated planet in the process of terraforming through forced labour.